As awareness around the importance of vitamin D for a bunch of different aspects of our health grows, more and more people might consider adding a supplement to their daily routine. Seems like an easy enough investment in your health, right?
While the right vitamin D supplement can totally help you get your levels to an optimal place (and keep them there!), you won’t reap much benefit from popping the wrong form of the important nutrient—or too little of it. And, sad but true: Research actually suggests that many of us might be making one or both of these supplement mistakes—and that they’re keeping us from achieving the vitamin D status we need to feel our best.*
A rude awakening from the research.
Here’s the deal, folks: Nationally representative data and robustly designed research on more than 26,000 adults in the U.S. (called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES) show that 41% of Americans are vitamin D “insufficient” [meaning they have serum 25(OH)D levels less than 30 ng/ml], while 29% are flat-out “deficient” (their levels are less than 20 ng/ml).
Note: Optimal vitamin D status is 50 ng/ml plus (for more info, check out this article.)
The numbers are pretty alarming—and what’s even more alarming is that they take into account all of the different ways we can get vitamin D, including foods and drinks (including fortified products like milk and OJ), the sun, and supplements.
“This raises the question: How insufficient are most people’s vitamin D supplements? Very,” says mbg director of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN. “This national statistic suggests that many people aren’t supplementing and are instead relying on vitamin D-scant diets and unreliable sun exposure and that those who are taking supplements are consuming sub-efficacious supplement doses.”
Basically, the current state of vitamin D supplementation in the U.S. clearly isn’t doing enough to prevent these staggering rates of insufficiency and deficiency (which are most likely to affect minorities, people who have overweight or obesity, and the physically inactive, by the way).
A few factors that might explain why taking supplements may not be enough to move the needle on our vitamin D status:
Bottom line: These statistics suggest that we can’t expect willy-nilly vitamin D supplementation to guarantee healthy levels and that many of us need to take a much more diligent, specific approach to boosting our intake of the sunshine vitamin.
What this means for your routine.
“For people with known low vitamin D levels, I typically recommend choosing a vitamin D3 supplement of 5,000 I.U. and taking it daily for eight to 12 weeks before retesting blood levels,” suggests Crouch. “That said, seasons of the year, typical sun exposure, skin tone, and body fat should all be considered, as these traits could increase a person’s supplement needs.”*
Of course, there is a place for some of the lower-dose vitamin D supplements you see out there (think anything less than 3,000 I.U.)—specifically when someone is taking multiple supplements that contain vitamin D3, like a multivitamin and a bone or immune health supplement, highlights dietitian Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN.* A lower-dose product can also be an easy way to augment your current D routine in the winter months, she suggests.
In these cases of multiple D inputs, Ferira explains that you’ll want to “think of your daily D3 supplement as your critical foundation to achieve and maintain healthy vitamin D levels, and approach the lesser but useful bits of vitamin D from a multivitamin, immune complex, diet, and sunshine as complimentary, extra, bonus if you will.”*
Generally, though, you probably need to take more vitamin D than you think, especially if you have insufficient or deficient levels since even those with already-healthy levels need 3,000 I.U. per day just to avoid dipping into a state of insufficiency. Consider a high-potency option, such as mbg’s vitamin D3 potency+ (which offers 5,000 I.U. of sustainable organic algal vitamin D3) or another one of our favorite vitamin D supplements.*
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.